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Authors: Violette Dubrinsky

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BOOK: Warrior
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given her a smile and a pat. His words

made her eyes mist and a lump form

in her throat. “As it stands, you are

heiress to my legacy.” His eyes closed

briefly, as if a painful thought crossed

his mind and he sighed. When they

opened

again,

Jaisyn

read

determination, “When I am gone,

things you do not yet understand will

begin to happen. You must not fight it.

It is for the good of our people.”

Jaisyn’s eyes narrowed. What were

these things she wouldn’t understand?

And where was this defeatist attitude

coming from? He was healthy and had

been so for over two months now.

The illness had been beaten once

more.

“Why are you speaking like this?”

Jaisyn demanded. She felt herself

blink wildly as she stared at the man

who’d been her world from the

moment of her birth.

“Beloved daughter, I am weak.

Though I do not look it, for which I

am grateful, this illness has taken its

toll on my body. If I succumb once

more, my body may not have the

strength to fight it.” He paused, his

gaze looking across the stream. On

the other side was a thick cluster of

trees. The hand around hers tightened,

and Jaisyn hastily looked to him,

searching his features for strain.

Wilhelm looked well. There were

some wrinkles on his face, but that

was due to age, not illness. “I want

you to promise me—
promise me

that whatever happens after I am

gone, you will accept. You must

promise me, Jaisyn. Let that be the

wish of an old man.”

She didn’t answer soon enough

because he released her hand to grip

her shoulders. His eyes were almost

wild as he repeated his entreaty.

Feeling her eyes fill with tears,

Jaisyn nodded. “I promise, Father.”

She didn’t know when he pulled her

into his arms, but she was glad for it.

Inhaling deeply of the cinnamon scent

that clung to him, she felt tears wet

her cheeks.

“That is good, Jaisyn. You will

eventually come to understand that

everything that I’ve done, I’ve done

for you, your sisters, and our people.”

“What have you done, Father?”

Jaisyn asked hoarsely. Why was he

certain she wouldn’t accept it unless

he dragged a promise from her?

As he gently pulled away and wiped

at eyes so similar to hers, Wilhelm

smiled sadly. “I have secured our

future.”

He said no more than that. Instead,

he took her hand and led her back to

the horses and the guard. They didn’t

speak on the ride back to the castle,

but Jaisyn couldn’t keep her eyes off

of him. Not only did Wilhelm appear

healthy, he’d ridden for two hours

today

without

complaint.

There

wasn’t even a hint of strain across his

face.

Her father would be fine. No doubt

he only wanted her prepared in the

event of his death, but he would be

fine. They had years left with their

only surviving parent. Years.

Unable to shake the chill in her

body, Jaisyn made her way to the

Temple as soon as she returned to the

castle. On her knees before the stone

statue of Lyria, Jaisyn clasped her

hands together and began to pray. She

prayed that her father beat his illness,

that whatever he’d done to secure

their future would be put off by his

new health.

Somewhat

appeased

afterward,

Jaisyn stood and took to her

chambers. Tomorrow, she would

return to the Temple, and ask the

High Priestess to pray with her.

Something was coming their way, and

she was positive she wouldn’t like it.

Chapter 2

Lytheria,

Two weeks later…

The Lytherians were in mourning.

They had just buried their king, as

they had buried his ancestors, in a ring

of fire. His soul would travel to the

heavens where he would be greeted in

the Hall of Lyria by his royal

ancestors. As was tradition, the

Lytherians would remain in dark

clothing for five more days.

No more than a week after she’d

given her promise, Wilhelm passed on.

It had been so sudden.

She’d sat next to him at supper the

night before, debating the merits of

the sword versus the battle-ax—he’d

given the scholarly interpretation while

she’d

promoted

the

warrior’s

approach—and he’d been healthy and

happy. Wilhelm had even danced with

the noblewomen and villagers who

took to the floor.

Early that morning, she’d been

awakened to the news that her father

was ill. Jaisyn had rushed to his

chambers, and once there, it had

taken the stone wall to keep her

standing. Instead of the healthy man

she’d eaten with, the person on the

bed was but a shell. His eyes were

sunken, his entire body pale and

wracked with shivers. Though he was

awake, he barely seemed conscious.

The

apothecaries

and

surgeons

gathered had all said the same thing. It

would be a miracle if he survived. He

had not.

Before the first shaft of sunlight

announced dawn, Wilhelm St. Ives,

King of Lytheria, was dead.

His daughters and a few of his loyal

advisers had been with him. When

he’d breathed his last, everyone had

shed tears. Wilhelm had been a good

king. Fair and brilliant, he was a man

of

the

modern

world.

He’d

implemented fairer laws for widows,

cut taxes for those barely earning a

living, punished those who deserved it

regardless of social class or income.

Jaisyn had cried uncontrollably on

the day of her father’s passing. From

the next morning forth, Jaisyn dried

her tears and took charge. She

couldn’t inherit the kingdom like a

son, but with no St. Ives heir to claim

the throne for the first time in the

history of the succession, she could

act the part of
heiress
. She was in

charge of the funeral arrangements,

and her father’s political advisors and

generals consulted her in the uncertain

interim. Like a true queen, Jaisyn took

on the burden of rule, and earned

respect and allegiance from those

who’d served her father.

Though there were whispers of

potential uprisings, Wilhelm’s sudden

death made it difficult. The army

surrounding the Lytherian City housed

sixty thousand men loyal to the St.

Ives family. There weren’t many who

could match that sum in the quick

time frame necessary to pursue a

coup. Wilhelm might have been a

scholar, but he’d understood war well.

That and the fact that Jaisyn had the

backing of her father’s most loyal

advisers and generals, gave her time to

focus on her family.

She comforted her sisters and

welcomed the condolences of other

family

members,

especially

her

cousins, the Dukes of Halifax and

Neren, who came to the city to be

with the family as they grieved. The

peerages of Halifax and Neren had

been created when two of Jaisyn’s

female ancestors married noblemen of

Lytheria. To secure the position of

any heir from those unions, King

Anathil had bestowed the title of duke

unto their fathers and made it such

that any male heir would inherit the

peerage, and the wealth, alongside it.

Xander Richardson, the Duke of

Halifax, seemed sincere in his

condolences, but the words of Kegan

Reinhardt, the Duke of Neren, didn’t

sit well with her. He was the oldest

male of her cousins, and the way in

which he spoke of Lytheria affirmed

Jaisyn’s belief that he intended to

challenge her for it. Jaisyn sighed and

decided to cross that bridge if, and

more than likely, when it came. She

turned her attention to Kegan. The

family of the deceased king was

seated around the long table for an

after-funeral repast. As Jaisyn was the

acting head of the St. Ives family, she

sat at the head of the long table.

Mathilda sat to her right, Isolde to her

left and next to them, Kegan and

Xander, respectively. Kegan was in

deep conversation with Mathilda and

from the blush upon her sister’s

cheek, she knew he was being

flirtatious. Kegan was not married, but

from what she’d heard from her

father

as

he

engaged

in

idle

conversation,

and

seen

on

the

occasions Kegan paid homage, he was

a rake. Jaisyn didn’t see any particular

handsomeness in the man, but his

eyes

held

something

startling,

something that would captivate some

and repel others. It repelled her; she

hoped it did the same for Mathilda.

Jaisyn moved her thoughts from

Kegan

and

looked

around

the

rectangular table. Dukes, duchesses,

earls and countesses, some she’d

never before met, all sat there. The

descendants of her ancestors; the

wives of those descendants; the

illegitimate children of kings and

princes.
Family.

Lunch was almost over and Jaisyn

was glad for that fact. She wished to

be alone with her sisters. Most of the

family gathered were people she’d

never seen before and she preferred to

mourn with those who’d known her

father intimately. Instead of these

nobles, she wanted to be with her

sisters, General Urian, Malcolm.

She looked to the wooden clock

upon the wall. Broming, another port

city of Lytheria, had sent these time-

telling machines to the palace when

her parents married. It was close to

three in the afternoon. She was about

to stand and thank everyone for

mourning her father when Kegan’s

voice cut through the low lull of

others. “You’ve been a gracious

hostess, Princess.”

Silence descended as every eye

turned to the duke before shifting

across to her.

“Thank you, cousin. It is my duty.”

A small smile curved Kegan’s lips

upward. “Yes, but does the duty not

seem much for one who wasn’t raised

to bear it?”

Feeling anger surge, Jaisyn struggled

to tamp it. She should have expected

Kegan to stake his claim to the throne

as soon as possible. Still, to begin at

the funeral lunch of the deceased king

was unmannerly, even for him.

“If you are referring to me, cousin, I

can assure you that I was raised to

bear this duty and more.”

A few gasps were the only sounds

heard around the table. Jaisyn did not

know whom she’d shocked, because

her eyes never left Kegan’s face.

Before her eyes, it darkened, showing

anger.

“You intend to rule?” He spat the

question as if the very taste of it

offended him.

Jaisyn

looked

at

every

face

gathered, every kinsman who waited

with bated breath for her response. “I

do not believe this is the time or place

for discussion of my intentions,

cousin. Only hours ago, my sisters

and I watched our father’s body turn

to black ash on a burning pyre.”

There were a few grunts of

agreement and Kegan’s face darkened

further. “When will be the time for

such discussion—?”

The doors screeched as they sprang

open and General Urian, accompanied

by a warrior whose name she could

not immediately place, but whose face

was familiar, burst into the room.

Everyone started but the general made

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